A principal in Montgomery County, Maryland, told students at her high school that if they were caught drunk at senior prom, they would not be allowed to walk at graduation. 

Some kids were caught drunk at senior prom, so they were not allowed to walk at graduation … until the superintendent of Montgomery County intervened and reversed the principal’s decision. The students were allowed to walk, and it’s unclear what, if any, consequences they received.

This is a tricky one.

On the one hand, it’s unfortunate to see an administrator undermined in this way, as you’d have to think this will make it more difficult for her to enforce consequences in the future. She did lay out the policy before prom. Students knew full well the chance they were taking when they decided to drink. Seen through this lens, the only conclusion you can draw is that the superintendent capitulated to parent pressure and in doing so made a mockery of the school’s attempt to take a hardline on students’ alcohol abuse.

But did the principal really make the best decision here?

When the principal created the stiff penalty for drinking, this must have been in response to either previous incidents or a general knowledge of the likelihood that students will drink. In this sense, the principal acknowledged a likely violation of policy (good) and proactively attempted to address the situation (also good).

But did the threat of not being able to participate in graduation have the anticipated effect of stopping students from drinking at prom? Clearly not. In fact, it would be hard to think of any threat that would be able to fully stop students from drinking before prom. And since you know students will still drink, that means you know that at least some students will not get to walk at graduation. And since you know how big of a deal this would be due to the extremely public nature of this punishment, you’d better clear this with your boss first, right? I guess not.

A better policy would be to have extremely strict barriers to entry for any student exhibiting any signs of intoxication. Check every student and throw out anyone who is intoxicated. There’s simply too long of a “lag time” in between the event and the punishment for the threat of not walking at graduation to have any real effect. I’d also consider creating an alternative pre-prom event sponsored by the school (only if the school had a history of alcohol-related prom incidents).

 

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